The Lyndesfarne Bridge Novels by Trevor Hopkins

Death on the New Bridge: Chapter 5

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Bret stared blankly at Kevin for a second, then his expression changed to the more characteristic one of wry amusement. He turned on his heel and strode purposefully in the direction of a second knot of people who stood a few yards further over the bridge towards the coast of England. Kevin and Tanji trailed after him, leaving a noticeably relieved Yiselle to return to her cadre.

Unhesitatingly, he attracted the attention of a large man whose back was turned to them by the simple expedient of a polite tap on the shoulder. The owner of the tapped shoulder turned around, scowling. Somehow Kevin imagined this was a permanent feature of this particular expression. Even so, his appearance relaxed a little as he recognised Bret, and the two men nodded to each other in a way which appeared to signify both mutual recognition and slightly wary respect.

"Kevin, this is Eric Graves," Bret said, introducing the other man in a surprisingly formal way, "Eric is a Sergeant in the Guardians in your world. Eric, Kevin helped to design the New Bridge. And can I also introduce Tanji from the Guild of Directions."

The man introduced had what Kevin could only describe as an extremely lived-in face. His countenance was criss-crossed with creases and frown marks, and his weather-beaten visage looked reddened by the wind or perhaps just hasty shaving. He was wrapped up in a bulky waterproof jacket coloured dark blue, as far as he could tell in the irregular lighting, This was part of the not-quite-uniform adopted by the Guardians from his own world, Kevin knew, and in this case it was overlain by a tabard in that familiar high-visibility yellow.

Eric swept both Kevin and Tanji with an alertly appraising look.

"So," he said, "What can I do for you?"

"I understand we don't now very much about this Doctor..." Kevin hesitated.

"Wollack," Bret supplied helpfully.

"Doctor Wollack," Kevin resumed, "But we do know that he just appeared in the middle of the bridge - as if by magic, one might say?"

Bret shot Kevin an amused look and even Eric's scowling face cracked into a grin.

"Now," Kevin continued, getting into his stride, "I know there are guards - Guardians - who patrol the Bridge, from both sides. I assume they do this at all times?"

"Of course," The Sergeant replied promptly, "The Bridge is not normally closed to traffic and is still in use even in the middle of the night. So the Guardians patrol in shifts, around the clock."

"But, naturally enough, I expect there's less traffic at night than during the day," Kevin asked.

Eric nodded.

"And the Guardians are trained and experienced in spotting intruders?"

"Right," the Sergeant confirmed.

"OK," Kevin continued, "I also imagine that, in this day and age, there's lots of remote monitoring of the crossing."

"Yes, of course there are video surveillance cameras," Sergeant Graves answered calmly, "Including low-light and infrared cameras with IR lighting projectors. Continuous recording and full-time monitoring, too."

"And a variety of magical means of observation as well," Bret interjected.

Kevin nodded.

"I imagined as much," he said slowly, "And yet none of them saw anything?"

"That's right," the Sergeant confirmed, looking perplexed.

"OK," Kevin said slowly, "Perhaps we can have a look at the video recordings?"

The Sergeant glanced again at Bret, who made no movement that Kevin could spot.

"I don't see why not," Graves replied, indicating the direction along the bridge to Kevin's home world, "Let's go."

Following the Sergeant, Bret, Kevin and Tanji made their way along the roadbed. The darkness was somehow emphasised by the modern electric lighting at regular intervals and made eerie by the noise of the waves below them and of the wind in the cables Kevin had himself designed to support this end of the bridge.

The little band entered the low modern building set unobtrusively by the roadside at the end of the massive concrete castings - twice the height of Kevin's head - which moored the cables that secured the bridge.

Monitoring screens The Sergeant guided inside the somehow anonymous building and immediately directed them into a room filled with modern surveillance equipment. A bank of monitors filled one wall, most showing boring views of parts of the bridge and the approaching roadway, occasionally relieved by what was evidently a Guardian on patrol. In front of the screens was a complicated-looking console and two comfortable chairs, both of which were occupied by alert-looking Guardians.

The Guardians on duty, both women, started to scramble to their feet when the Sergeant entered the room - a reaction Kevin found quaintly archaic - but Graves quickly waved them back. They returned to their chores, although they were not entirely able to suppress their curiosity at the strangers accompanying their senior officer.

The Sergeant leaned forward and spoke in a voice just a little too quiet for Kevin to hear. Immediately, one of the Guardians moved her hands competently over her keyboard, and the largest screen in the centre of the bank of monitors flickered into life.

It was apparent that he had asked to review the security recording at the time the body had appeared. As Kevin and the others watched, the unchanging image of the featureless roadbed suddenly changed to show a prone form. The corpse appeared as if a wave had passed over the body, from the feet to the head, like a stage magician's cloak revealing a surprised-looking rabbit. Kevin wasn't sure, but it looked as if the one of the body's arms had moved slightly, as if the cadaver had been kicked or dropped.

"That's all we have?" Bret inquired.

"I'm afraid so," the Sergeant replied.

"OK," Bret continued, "Let's see it again."

They watched the images once more. Afterwards, Kevin was silent, deep in thought, for a long moment, then he turned to Bret.

"How does magical invisibility work?" he asked suddenly.

Bret looked surprised at the direction of the other man's questioning.

"What do you mean?" he countered, uncertainly.

"Well, I can imagine a couple of ways," Kevin said, waving his hands, "Firstly, the magic could somehow distort the rays, or perhaps just transfer the light straight through a solid object. Like the magic windows."

Beside him, there was a sharp intake of breath from Tanji.

"Or, the magic could work directly on the mind of the witness."

Kevin had known for some time that the world of Lyndesfarne had sophisticated techniques for altering perception. These were used, it seemed, for everything from games and entertainment to the mind-wipes occasionally - he hoped - used to remove memories from the heads of unexpected visitors to the other world.

Bret shook his head slowly.

"Well-observed," he said eventually, sounding genuinely impressed, "And certainly, techniques for magical invisibility are generally well-known. Both methods are possible - although the first approach is a good deal more complicated. It's extremely difficult to get it right for a mobile object or, more precisely, an object that is actually moving."

He paused for a second, perhaps wondering - it seemed to Kevin - just how much to explain at this juncture. "The magic embedded in the Watchers' robes is of this kind," he continued, "It only works really well when the wearer is stationary. Indeed, it is for this very reason that the Watchers are trained to be immobile for long periods."

Tanji's sudden stillness, together with the feeling that she was listening extremely closely, gave Kevin the impression that this information was not well-known, even in the world of Lyndesfarne.

Kevin too was intensely curious.

"Surely, being truly invisible only when one is stationary is a considerable disadvantage," he asked, at a loss for an explanation, "Why bother at all?"

Bret nodded, as if to acknowledge the worth of Kevin's question.

"It's a good point," he replied, "But there's a significant advantage: it is very effective against all kinds of detection - including hearing - as well as being proof against a wide gamut of magical detection techniques." "As long as you stand still?"

Bret nodded again.

"What about the other kind?" Kevin pressed.

It turned out that the second form of invisibility - a glamour working on the mind of any observer - was a simpler magic, and took much less effort and skill to create. Bret explained it remained effective when the user was moving. However, it was much easier to detect, especially with magical means, and there were counter-measures available which would dispel the magical urge to fail to see what was plainly in front of one's eyes.

"What's needed to gain this kind of invisibility?" Kevin asked.

"You need to have an object of some kind to contain the numerous sprites that are required," Bret explained, "But it wouldn't need to be very big. It's conventional to arrange it so that this object can be worn about the person - typically, it would be a necklace or amulet."

"A magic amulet which makes you invisible," muttered Kevin to himself, "Just like something out of a fairytale."

He nodded thoughtfully for a moment then turned to the Sergeant.

"Presumably you have already checked that neither technique was used to hide a person approaching from the Lyndesfarne side?"

"Well, yes, of course," Sergeant Graves replied promptly, "At least as far as we can. We're pretty certain that no-one approached cloaked - the Guardians are trained to watch out for the partial invisibility generated by a Watcher's Cloak when the wearer is moving. And we have magical alarms for glamours attempting to cross into your world."

"But, what about from the England side? Can you detect someone protected by this magic approaching from my world?"

There was a sudden silence in the room.

"Don't tell me we haven't thought about this?" Kevin exclaimed, glancing from Bret to Tanji and back again, "We know magic does work in my world, if it can get there without being disabled by the barrier."

The Sergeant glanced at Bret, who shrugged visibly.

"The alarms don't work going the other way," Graves admitted shamefaced.

"Why on Earth not?" Kevin exclaimed loudly, making Tanji jump visibly.

"Because no-one thought they would be needed," the Sergeant replied, adding, "Although I admit that might seem a little short-sighted now."

"So," Kevin persisted, "Would such a magic work even now, on us watching these recordings?"

"Probably," Bret acknowledged, "Sprites work practically forever. I think we should have another, closer look at those recordings."

He was silent for a long moment, then turned to Eric Graves.

"Sergeant," he said slowly and clearly, taking a little notebook from his pocket and scribbling something on it, "I want you to get a message to your opposite number. Use the signals. Can you do that?"

"Yes, at once," the other man replied.

"Good. The message asks for a certain item to be brought across the bridge. I need you to arrange that it is delivered as quickly as possible."

"Yessir."

Sergeant Graves left the room at the double. Bret returned his attention to Kevin and Tanji, ignoring the curious gazes of the two Guardians on duty.

"It'll probably take fifteen minutes or so to bring over the item," he said mysteriously, rubbing his hands together, "So let's familiarise ourselves with these recordings in the meantime, shall we?"

The following minutes dragged, lasting at least two hours each, at least that's how it seemed to Kevin. The CCTV recordings were no distraction whatsoever, showing unchanging shots of sections of the bridge. They returned again and again to the few frames which showed the apparent materialisation of Andrew Wollack's body, and debated inconclusively and in minute detail all aspects of its appearance.

After what was no more than the promised time, the Sergeant returned carrying a strange-looking box, which he placed carefully on the console in front of them. It was decorated in an eclectic and brightly-coloured style including several words in the Lyndesfarne language that Kevin did not understand. He was unsure just what the box was made from; at first, he thought it was just tinplated steel - like a biscuit tin - but it soon became clear that it was some kind of ceramic.

The container had a tightly-fitted lid which Bret eased off with considerable effort and great care. The inside of the box appeared to be filled with multi-coloured tissue paper. Nestling in the wrappings was an object, an item of jewellery of some kind, and swirling with the magical sprites that Kevin was all too familiar with. With growing astonishment, he realised that, with Bret's direction, the Sergeant had deliberately imported a working magical item into this world, through the barrier deliberately designed to prevent such a thing.

"Now," Bret said with satisfaction, picking up the object and placing it in the centre of the console, "Let's have another look at those recordings."

It did not take them very long to replay the recording of the appearance of the deceased Doctor Wollack. Now, however, there was a glimpse of a cloaked figure for a few seconds before the body appeared. The disguised figure appeared to be carrying the body over his shoulder, but was then alarmed by something they could only speculate about. Whatever his concern, he immediately dropped the corpse in front of him, then hurried onwards, stepping over the body as he did so.

"So you were right!" Bret exclaimed, looking at Kevin approvingly.

They spent the next thirty minutes or so poring over the video recordings from other cameras on the bridge, in some cases stepping though the recording frame by frame.

There were a very few frames show a furtive figure from the back, with a bundle over his shoulder, interspersed with many shots which showed absolutely nothing at all. Whoever the mystery person was, he clearly knew where the cameras were, and appeared to be doing his best to keep out of the line of sight of them. Apart from the insight that the figure was tall and strong, and probably male, there was nothing to identify the individual involved.

"I think," Kevin said finally, looking directly at Bret, "We need to find out more about this Doctor Wollack."

"I agree," The other man responded immediately, "I think it's high time to make a call at NISSA."


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